Texas's El Paso Times had an interesting story Tuesday on a development in the state's law that initially seemed to require public schools to teach a non-sectarian Bible course that would be an elective taught by teachers who received some sort of specialized training. It turns out that the law may not be mandatory, and the legislature neglected to fund the training. The state's education commissioner says that due to lack of funds, there hasn't been any special training. Amendments made to the law before it was passed seem to suggest that the schools may only have to offer the class if at least 15 students are interested. Another section of the bill says that the schools "may" offer the course, as in, the course is not mandatory anymore.
I'm a little confused how this is only making news now. A reasonable reading of the legislation in its final form would have revealed these problems, but it's hardly the first time a legislature passed a poorly written law with inherent inconsistencies that will likely be left to the courts to sort out:
AUSTIN -- The state's top education official wants to know whether Texas high schools will have to start offering Bible classes during the 2009-2010 school year.
Last year, lawmakers passed a law requiring high schools to make Bible courses available as electives. The classes, according to the law, would not be a graduation requirement and would be religion neutral.
"Many of us believe the elective course would complement the studies of literature and the arts in the curriculum," said state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, a co-author of the bill. "I think it's a good option for students."
It is interesting to note that the law was co-authored by a Democrat. What's also interesting is that the story doesn't seem to explain that the law is not really requiring anything, at least how I am reading it.
Professor Howard Friedman of The University of Toledo College of Law kindly provides a link to a letter on his excellent Religion Clause blog from the state's education commissioner to the state's attorney general asking for the law's proper interpretation. As you can see from the letter, there are at least three ways the law could be read.
But back to the article. In conclusion, the reporter attached the opinions of some of the parents whose children attend local schools. Both comments are generally positive toward the law:
Pamela Perez, who lives in Northeast El Paso and has a 3-year-old and a 13-year-old, said Bible courses in public schools would be a good option for students, teaching them how to treat one another and how to deal with problems without resorting to violence.
"What children will learn from the Bible will help them in their every day lives," she said.
Cher Poehlein, who has three school-aged children and lives in Horizon City, agreed Bible courses would be a good thing for students in public schools, with one big caveat.
"As long as its nondenominational that would be OK," she said. "I would be very much for it."
There are some out there that disagree with this law because both reader comments attached to the story seem opposed to the idea. Was there no one around that disagreed with this bill? Was there anyone in El Paso that thought that the law is not the best use of state education funds?
Since they are not funding the law, the issue may no longer be significant. I also think it's interesting that the second person quoted believes it is important that it's nondenominational. Does that mean just within Protestant denominations, or would a Catholic view towards the Bible be included in that statement? Would they object to a course teaching the Koran from a historical point of view?